Workers turn to social media for a variety of reasons while on the job

WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 22, 2016) – Social media influences and permeates many aspects of daily life for Americans today, and the workforce is no exception. While these digital platforms offer the potential to enhance worker connections and resources, they also present concerns for employers who think employees are using social media for non-work purposes. A new Pew Research Center study finds that today’s workers turn to social media for a range of reasons while at work, most often to take a mental break (34%) or to connect with friends and family (27%).

The nationally representative survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults indicates that 17% of workers say they use social media to build or strengthen personal relationships with coworkers, but the transparency that social media facilitates comes with costs as well as benefits. Of young workers ages 18 to 29, 29% report that they have discovered information that lowered their professional opinion of a colleague. By comparison, 16% of those ages 30 to 49 and 6% of those ages 50 to 64 have experienced this.

“The most common story about social media in the workplace is that it leads to bad outcomes like more distraction,” said Cliff A. Lampe, UMSI associate professor and co-investigator of the study. “However, these results show that at least some people receive benefits from using social media at work, either from finding new information or from learning more about co-workers. We feel these results call for a deeper examination of the possible benefits of social media in the workplace.”

The survey also finds that half of all full-time and part-time workers (51%) say their workplace has rules about using social media while at work.

"These findings highlight some of the challenges faced by organizations and workers, as we move into an era where social media is increasingly integrated into our daily communication practices inside and outside the workplace,” said Professor Nicole B. Ellison, co-investigator of the study. “For instance, how can we use social media to learn more about our colleagues as individuals and friends, yet retain control over aspects of our personal lives that we would prefer to keep private?"

Nearly one-in-three workers (32%) report that their employer has policies about how employees may present themselves on the Internet, revealing employers’ concerns that workers might engage in speech that would reflect poorly on their organization. These policies, however, do not necessarily dictate how workers use social media, as fully 77% report using social media regardless of whether their employer has a policy in place.

“These data show that the rise of social media has added a new layer of job-related activity for many workers as well as new opportunities to ‘escape’ the job when they want to take a break,” noted Kenneth Olmstead, research associate at Pew Research Center and lead investigator of the study. “Social networking platforms provide workers new ways to learn job-related skills and new ways for them to socialize even when they are on the job. In effect, social media has made the once solid boundary between work and leisure a lot more permeable.”

Among the other findings:

  • 17% of workers turn to social media to build or strengthen personal relationships with coworkers, while 17% use social media to learn about someone they work with.
  • 24% of workers use social media to make or support professional connections, and another 20% do to get information that helps solve problems at work.
  • 12% of workers use social media to ask work-related questions to people outside their organization, and another 12% do to ask work-related questions to people inside their organization.
  • A majority (56%) of workers who use social media platforms for work-related purposes believe that using social media ultimately helps their job performance. One-in-five (22%) believe that it mostly hurts, 16% feel that it doesn’t have much impact either way and 4% see both the benefits and the drawbacks.
  • 78% of workers who use social media platforms for work-related purposes say social media is useful for networking or finding new job opportunities.
  • Some 17% of workers report that they “hardly ever” use the internet on a typical day for work-related tasks, while 25% report that they “never” use the internet for this reason.

The findings from this report are based on data collected in two omnibus telephone surveys conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International and fielded on Sept. 11-14, 2014, and Sept. 18-21, 2014. The surveys include a nationally representative sample of 2,003 U.S. adults ages 18 and older.

The full survey and report is available at http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/06/22/social-media-and-the-workplace/.

Posted June 22, 2016